Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Second Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations

On 6-7 April 2009, the second Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations will be held in Istanbul, Turkey. In addition to high-level plenary debates, the event is intended to feature:
  • An international platform for participants to develop joint initiatives and launch new programs.
  • A range of project-specific working sessions, which will provide an interactive, inclusive convening space for policy-makers, international organizations and civil society groups to share lessons on best practices and develop joint work platforms.
  • A unique 'Marketplace of Ideas' that will showcase some of the most innovative and successful grassroots projects with the purpose of transcending cultural divides and building peace.

The Alliance of Civilizations (AoC) was established in 2005, at the initiative of the Governments of Spain and Turkey, under the auspices of the United Nations. The AoC Secretariat, which is based in New York, works in partnership with States, international and regional organizations, civil society groups, foundations, and the private sector to mobilize concerted efforts to promote cross-cultural relations among diverse nations and communities, and in particular between "Muslim" and "Western" societies.

The Alliance works in four program areas to support such projects. These areas are: youth, media, education, and migration.

At a political level, mainly through role of our High Representative President Sampaio, former President of Portugal, the Alliance works to establish platforms for dialogue among political, religious, media and civil society personalities who are prepared to use their influence in advancing the Alliance of Civilizations’ objectives.

The Alliance has developed memoranda of understanding with a number of partner organizations, including UNESCO, the Arab Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ALESCO) and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO).

The Alliance of Civilizations Group of Friends community is vital to the AoC’s implementation process. The Group of Friends consists of representatives of States, UN agencies, and other international organizations and bodies that have demonstrated active interest in and support of the Alliance.
Surprisingly, there is no representative of the United States Government listed among the Group of Friends. Perhaps this is something that the Obama administration can rectify.
The Alliance of Civilisations International Network of Foundations brings together foundations working to build trust and cooperation among religions, cultures and peoples. The Network includes U.S. foundationsL the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, as well as many of the most important foreign foundations.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Global Voices Book Challenge

April 23rd is a symbolic date for world literature for on this date and in the same year of 1616, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. The date has been chosen by UNESCO and the United Nations for the annual celebration of World Book and Copyright Day.

The Global Voices Book Challenge is as follows:

  1. Read a book during the next month from a country whose literature you have never read anything of before.
  2. Write a blog post about it during the week of April 23.

UPDATE: Tag your posts with #gvbook09 so we can find your posts.

Become a World Heritage Junior Ranger!

Wally the U.S. World Heritage Wolf invites kids from 8 to 14 to become World Heritage Junior Rangers. You can do so at home by completing five interesting activities available at

If you can, get you parents to take you to visit the many World Heritage Sites which are U.S. National Parks and complete their respective Junior Ranger programs

The U.S. Reasserts Interest in World Heritage Program

Source: "U.S. Revisits Its World Heritage Roots," Melinda Burns, Miller-McCune, March 28, 2009.

"for the first time since 1995, the U.S. Department of the Interior nominated two new sites for inclusion on the United Nation's World Heritage List of places of "outstanding universal value," a kind of Nobel Prize in the world of preservation. The two sites are George Washington's Mount Vernon estate on the Potomac River, and the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.......

"Since 2005, following a lapse of six years, the U.S. has been a member of the 21-nation World Heritage Committee, selecting and monitoring sites and making management recommendations. In 2007, the National Park Service became an associate member of the World Heritage Alliance, a partnership with the travel services company Expedia, Inc. to promote the sites."

In the early 1970s, under then-President Richard Nixon, the U.S. was the chief architect of and the first country to sign the World Heritage Convention, an international treaty administered by UNESCO that encourages all countries to protect places of exceptional ecological, scientific or cultural importance.

UNESCO Non-Alligned Countries Meet

There is a report in Diario Granma, in Spanish (Havana, March 25, 2009), on a recent meeting of the Non Aligned Nations of UNESCO. The follow is extracted from that article:
The participants in the meeting reaffirmed the priorities given to South-South cooperation on education, cultural diversity and human rights. The meeting also identified as important UNESCO fields of action:
  • New information and communications technologies
  • The effects of the global economic crisis on education
  • the defense of linguistic diversity and
  • the support of the Palestinian peopls.
In the plenary meeting, chaired by the Héctor Hernández Pardo (Cuban Ambassador to UNESCO and president of the Group, Farouk Hosni was presented as the candidate of the Arab nations in the October election for the new Director General of UNESCO.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

UNESCO and 15 to 24 Year Olds

The question often comes up as to how UNESCO serves youths. There is a facet of the UNESCO website that describes the Organization's approach to youth, but there doesn't seem to be a separate Youth Portal specifically designed to be lively and directed to the interests of young adults.

I would guess that UNESCO's most important function with respect to youth is encouraging countries to develop youth-friendly policies and services. This is a prototypical function for an intergovernmental organization.

In this respect, the Infoyouth Network was created by UNESCO to provide an overview of youth policies and programs throughout the world.
The Infoyouth network operates in conjunction with the National Commissions for UNESCO, youth organisations, governmental and non governmental institutions and information and data research agencies and bodies. The Steering Committee, made up of representatives from UNESCO, the French National Commission for UNESCO, the Youth and Community Education Unit of the French Ministry for Youth and Sports and the National Institute for Youth and Community Education ensures a regular follow-up of all Infoyouth projects.
UNESCO also engages in partnerships with young people’s networks and organizations both to solicit information from them and to help them develop projects and programs in the areas of UNESCO’s competence.

Recall that UNESCO has a relatively small staff and budget as compared with the challenges it faces at the lead agency in the intergovernmental United Nations system in education, science, culture and communications and information. As such its direct services to youths must necessarily be limited. One important function however, is the Youth Forum UNESCO holds in conjunction with each of its General Conferences. The next Youth Forum will be this fall.

John Daly
(Opinions expressed above are mine and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO.)

UNESCO and UPEACE agree to reinforce cooperation

On 18 February 2009, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, and the Rector of the University of Peace, Mr John J. Maresca, met at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris to discuss ways of strengthening cooperation between the two organizations.

Headquartered in Costa Rica, the University for Peace (UPEACE) was established in December 1980 as a Treaty Organization by the United Nations General Assembly. Its mission is: “to provide humanity with an international institution of higher education for peace with the aim of promoting among all human beings the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence, to stimulate cooperation among peoples and to help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress, in keeping with the noble aspirations proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations.”

The Director-General indicated that UNESCO would rapidly examine practical opportunities for collaboration based on these common competencies and interests.

50th anniversary of Nubia Campaign

In 1954 it was decided to build the Aswan High Dam. The huge lake created by the dam would eventually cover the Upper Nile Valley from Aswan in Egypt to the Dal Cataract in Sudan - a historically and archaeologically rich area, known as Nubia.

In 1959 the Egyptian and the Sudanese Governments requested UNESCO to help their countries protect and rescue the historic sites endangered by the lake. UNESCO launched an appeal to the Member States for an International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia. This appeal resulted in the excavation and recording of hundreds of sites, the recovery of thousands of objects, and the salvage and relocation of a number of important temples to higher ground, the most famous of them the temple complexes of Abu Simbel and Philae. The campaign ended on 10 March 1980 as a complete and spectacular success.
“A moving demonstration of the miracles that can be achieved by international cooperation.”
Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO
The success of the Campaign inspired the development and adoption in 1972 of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention. The Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979.

Recently, UNESCO, Egypt and Sudan began the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Nubia Campaign with a meeting in Egypt.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Class Exercise: ExBrd Working Group on Old City of Jerusalem

Last night in our UNESCO Seminar we did a role playing exercise based on a real negotiation that took place in May, 2007 in the context of a Special Session of the Executive Board of UNESCO.

The Old City of Jerusalem has been inscribed in UNESCO's World Heritage List since 1981. There is a ramp leading from the square in which the Wailing Wall (perhaps the most sacred place in Judaism) is located to the mount above where the Al Aqsa Mosque (which includes the Dome of the Rock), one of the holiest sites in Islam.

A retaining wall supporting the ramp failed and the Israeli authorities began archaelogical works prior to restoring the ramp. The communication between Israeli and Palestinian archaeological authorities has long been broken, and Palestinians were concerned as to the scope and purpose of those works, which they felt should have been under Arab auspices; the site of course holds remains of more than 1000 years of Muslim rule and occupation. The World Heritage Center was also experiencing difficulties communicating with the Israeli authorities.

Arab delegates asked for the Special Session of the Executive Board to review the situation. A subcommittee of the Executive Board was formed to draft a resolution on the matter, to be considered by the entire 58 member Board. The subcommittee consisted of Delegates from Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Norway, the Palestinian Authority, and the United States as well as the Deputy Director General of UNESCO. In our role playing exercise, students took the roles of these participants.

A team consisting of the Director a staffer from the World Heritage Center, the Director-General of ICCROM and the President of ICOMOS had previously visited Jerusalem and investigated the situation; their report was made available to the subcommittee.

The purpose of the exercise was to help the students understand the complexity of such a negotiation and the many levels at which it take place.

Of course, a common concern among all the Delegates was the preservation of a site which is of huge cultural importance to billions of people, and which is must be managed to accommodate millions of visitors.

Underlying the negotiation of course was a concern for the potential for violent confrontations in Jerusalem. The Al Aqsa Intifada was ignited at the very location under discussion. And of course, the negotiation was conducted in the context of the overall Peace Process in which Norway and the United States have played key roles.

The participants in the Working Group were unanimous in their statements that the issue should not be dealt with as a political issue, yet of course the Delegates were all diplomats of ambassadorial rank, and the venue was not the specialized agencies dealing with monuments and heritage sites, nor the World Heritage Center, but rather the governing body of UNESCO itself.

Students discussed the fact that each participant in the negotiation faced domestic constituencies that were very concerned with the condition of the sites and the political contexts. Israel's government was facing upcoming elections and the Palestinian authority was soon to dissolve in civil war; a large portion of the Jordanian population describes itself as Palestinian.

The media was characterized as influential in the negotiations even if not present. While U.S. media were silent on the situation, it was extensively covered in Israeli, Palestinian and Arab media. While the actual conduct of the negotiation would not be revealed, the results would be publicized in the countries of several of the delegates.

Moreover, Delegates were likely to be concerned with groups of nations, as the European Delegate might have been concerned with representing the views of European powers, and the Arab nations with representing other Arab and Islamic nations.

It was recognized that much of the work of the committee would be done outside of the meeting room, that the Delegates were likely to have received instructions from their governments, and that there were possibilities of incentives or sanctions being imposed on governments as a result of the negotiations, and that there were possibilities of incentives being offered or sanctions being threatened in the process of the negotiations. Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority are all heavily dependent on European and American support.

While the secretariats of UNESCO and other involved organizations were concerned with the integrity of the organizational processes, they must also have been concerned with the potential benefits and threats implied by the negotiation to their own organizations. The key organizational members were the heads of their respective organizations, rather than lower level technical staff.

And of course the Delegates were individuals, with their own ideological positions. One at least was probably chosen both as a neutral party and because of the respect he had earned as a skilled and experienced diplomat. Two of the Secretariat members have since been mentioned as attractive candidates in this year's election of a new UNESCO Director General. And of course, while all were internationally experienced, each Delegate came from his/her own cultural background -- Arab, Israeli, Scandinavian, Texan, etc. and might have understood the negotiations in part from that cultural background.

We reviewed the actual Resolution that had been approved
  • which documented the previous agreements that set the stage for the current resolution
  • recognized the universal cultural importance of the site
  • acknowledged the work of the team that had done the site visit
  • referred future work on the issue to the World Heritage Center
  • called upon Israel to provide more information and coordinate with Islamic authorities on the works, and
  • thanked the Secretariat for its work
The students agreed that this resolution probably represented a result which did not fully achieve the objectives of any party, but which all parties could accept. It clearly represented a substantive and informative product of detailed negotiation. The United States diplomats thought the negotiation very successful, but we had little insight as to the satisfaction of other Delegates in the outcome.

The seven students and two coordinators had a lively, two hour discussion greatly facilitated by the fact that all of the students had prepared for the class. A fairly extensive set of case study materials had been made available for their review prior to the class, but most had gone beyond those materials.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development

The UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development – Moving into the Second Half of the UN Decade will be held in Bonn, Germany, from 31 March to 2 April 2009.

Five years into the Decade, the conference will follow four objectives: to highlight the relevance of ESD to all of education; to promote international exchange on ESD, especially between the North and the South; to carry out a stock-taking of the implementation of the UN Decade and to develop strategies for the way ahead.

700 persons from 150 countries have registered for the Conference.

Looking Outward and Forward: UNESCO World Conference on Education and Sustainable Development

Halfway points of any endeavor are wonderful times to reflect and to revitalize: The World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development held in Bonn, Germany, promises to do just that. Held five years into the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, the conference will emphasize best practices and cooperation for education for sustainable development (ESD).

The conference, held March 31 through April 2, will bring together over 700 people from 150 countries and will have four main objectives. The overarching theme is to underscore how crucial ESD is to education at all levels. Related to that is a second objective of reviewing what has been done so far in ESD and what lessons can be taken from previous experiences.
Two other themes look to the possibilities ahead. The conference seeks to promote international exchange of ideas regarding ESD, particularly between North and South, and to share best practices and ideas regarding ESD on a global level. It additionally hopes to spark conversation and plans to develop strategies for the best paths to take for future development.
These objectives will be infused into all elements of the program, which include high-level segments, plenary and workshop sessions, exhibitions of 25 ESD projects, project-based workshops, and special events. An official program can be found here.
This conference is the second in a series of educational conferences UNESCO is holding on global education. Each conference strives to foster dialogue regarding best practices for educational priorities, and the potential to transform educational systems by sharing best practices and learning from each other is enormous. The opportunity to participate in such global dialogues, therefore, must not be wasted.

Monday, March 23, 2009



Position Level: D1
Duty Location: Paris
Applications due by:
14 May 2009

Safeguarding the Underwater Cultural Heritage

III. century wreck, Italy
© UNESCO/E. Trainito

The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, adopted in 2001, entered into force on 2 January 2009 after being ratified
by 20 nations. It enables States Parties to better protect their submerged archaeological heritage from being damaged, looted or scattered away. It provides guidance for underwater archaeology. The first Meeting of States Parties to the Convention takes place on 26 and 27 March 2009. The exhibition "Cultural Secrets under the Waves" is expected to highlight the event.
Editorial Comment: The Convention seems to be focused on the protection of underwater archaeological sites from treasure hunters so that they may be preserved for scientific study, with a subsidiary concern for sustainable tourism. It seeks to encourage states party to the Convention to enact their own legal protections for underwater cultural heritage, recognizing the sovereignty of nations over their coastal zones under the Law of the Seas. The United States has not yet ratified the Convention.

The Convention allows removal of underwater materials that are in danger. It is hoped that the staff from the Culture Program of UNESCO is coordinating with the staff of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission to obtain expert advice on pollution, tsunamis and other oceanographic factors that might endanger specific underwater sites.

For North America, one of the most interesting archaeological issues is how the Americas were first populated. During the last ice age, there was a land bridge from Siberia to Alaska, and it is believed that tribal groups crossed on that bridge and their descendants eventually populated North and South America. The question is whether these people first moved down the coasts or whether they took advantage of the retreat of glaciers to move south through the middle of what is now Canada. Sea level has risen 100 feet since the peak of the ice age so that if these first settlers moved down the coasts, the fragile remains of their passing are likely to be underwater if they exist at all. With the rapid degradation of coastal zones, it would seem urgent to do the underwater archaeological work to find any such remains as would exist. A collaborative North American effort, perhaps facilitated by UNESCO might help. JAD

More on the Election of the Director General

Source: "Sexo e intriga en UNESCO (I)," Jorge Asís, Internacionales, March 8, 2009.

A new UNESCO Director General is to be elected in October, and Jorge Asis has provided an analysis of the state of the election in a Spanish language OP/Ed piece. He notes that in the spirit of geographical rotation of the post, given that the last three DGs were African, European and Asian, it is likely to be the turn of the Islamic peoples. Farouk Hosny, an artist an long time Minister of Culture of Egypt, is a leading contender. Morocco and Oman have apparently chosen to withdraw their nominees.

Asis suggests that two candidates from former Communist countries, Bulgaria and Lithuania, are in consideration but are less likely to be elected. He also notes the possibility of Marcio Barbosa, a Brazilian who is currently Deputy DG, but predicts that Barbosa may not obtain the full support of the Brazilian government that would be needed for his election.

Hosny is controversial in part for past anti-Israeli statements, especially unfortunate in the context of UNESCO's emphasis of dialog among cultures. Asis also suggests that while Hosny has strong support for the wife of Egyptian President Moubarak, his personal style may detract from the support he obtains from other Islamic nations.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

National Commission Meeting Postponed

The U.S. National Commission for UNESCO was scheduled to meet in May, but I have been told that that meeting will be postponed. The new U.S. Permanent Representative to UNESCO and the new Executive Director of the National Commission have not yet been appointed and there remain other vacancies on the State Department staff dealing with UNESCO. The meeting might take place in September when the new staff are in place to meet with the National Commission.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

World Poetry Day 2009

July 14, 2008 - Mahmoud Darwich
gave a poetry reading
in the ancient Roman Theater
to celebrate Actes Sud's 30th anniversary.
Photo: Khala via flickr

World Poetry Day is today, March 21st.

Among the various events organized at UNESCO Headquarters on this occasion is an evening, organized devoted to Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwich, 2007 laureate of the Struga Poetry Evenings international festival.

I found on the Internet the following poem in translation attributed to Mahmoud Darwich:

My Mother

I long for my mother's bread
My mother's coffee
Her touch
Childhood memories grow up in me
Day after day
I must be worth my life
At the hour of my death
Worth the tears of my mother.

And if I come back one day
Take me as a veil to your eyelashes
Cover my bones with the grass
Blessed by your footsteps
Bind us together
With a lock of your hair
With a thread that trails from the back of your dress
I might become immortal
Become a God
If I touch the depths of your heart.

If I come back
Use me as wood to feed your fire
As the clothesline on the roof of your house
Without your blessing
I am too weak to stand.

I am old
Give me back the star maps of childhood
So that I
Along with the swallows
Can chart the path
Back to your waiting nest.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The United States and UNESCO

View of the Capitol and its
reflection in Washington DC at night
©Olga Bogatyrenko

In 2007 voluntary contributions from the United States to UNESCO amounted to USD 3.3 million

Voluntary contributions have increased since the United States re-joined UNESCO in 2003. During its 19-year absence, the United States nevertheless continued to make voluntary contributions to a number of UNESCO’s activities.
UNESCO provides a website describing U.S. cooperation with the Organization.

Anthony O'Daly

On St. Patrick's Day I thought I would share this piece with you. The music is from Reincarnations by Samuel Barber sung by the Taipei Chamber Singers. It is a setting of the following poem:
Anthony O'Daly

Since your limbs were laid out
the stars do not shine!
The fish leap not out
in the waves!
On our meadows the dew
does not fall in the morn,
for O Daly is dead!
Not a flow'r can be born!
Not a word can be said!
Not a tree have a leaf!
On our meadows the dew
does not fall in the morn,
for O Daly is dead!
After you
there is nothing to do!
There is nothing but grief!

by James Stephens (1882-1950)
from Reincarnations, published 1918
Stephens, in turn wrote the poem as a "reincarnation" of the lament in Irish by my several times great grandfather, Anthony (Blind) Raftery (Antoine Ó Raifteiri also Antoine Ó Reachtabhra, 1784-1835). The original was written for Anthony O'Daly, a young Irishman hanged by the British as a rebel in 1820. Raftery is supposed to have witnessed the hanging.

Raftery was never published in his lifetime but the poems were stored in memory and in the Gaelic Renaissance were collected and published. Douglas Hyde, later president of Ireland, published Abhráin Atá Leagtha Ar an Reachtúire, Or, Songs Ascribed to Raftery in 1903. The book which is in both Irish and English has been made available on the Internet by Google Books. The Irish version of the poem, Anthony O'Daly, is on page 128 for those who might be interested.

Irish is identified by UNESCO as a language in peril of being lost, with only 44,000 native speakers. If it were to be lost, its heritage of thousands of years of poetry and literature would be seriously diminished. I would not that the Asian chorus, singing Anthony O'Daly, posted originally by Kuang-Chien Chen from Taiwan, is of a setting by an American composer. The intangible heritage, originally in the Irish language, has global importance.

John Anthony Daly

Monday, March 16, 2009

United States and Honduras Extend Agreement to Protect Archaeological Heritage of Honduras

A “Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Honduras Concerning the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Materials from the Pre-Columbian Cultures of Honduras" has just been signed according to the Department of State.
Effective March 12, 2009, this extension represents a continuation of cooperation that began in 2004 when the United States implemented import restrictions to stem the problem of pillage of Honduras’ rich pre-Columbian heritage and the illicit trafficking in such material. Recognizing that this heritage is in jeopardy from pillage, the agreement enables the imposition of import restrictions on certain categories of archaeological material ranging in date from approximately 1200 B.C. to approximately 1500 A.D., including objects made of ceramic, metal, stone, shell, and animal bone. The agreement also calls upon both governments to encourage academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and other private entities to cooperate in the exchange of knowledge and information about the cultural patrimony of Honduras, and to collaborate in its preservation and protection.

This U.S. action is in response to a request made by the Government of Honduras under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property

Saturday, March 14, 2009

UNESCO Against Racism: Lessons from the past, current challenges and future perspectives

A conference entitled UNESCO Against Racism: Lessons from the past, current challenges and future perspectives will be held on 20 March at UNESCO in Paris to coincide with International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (21 March).

The meeting will include three sessions;
  • UNESCO’s 60 years of combating racism: achievements and legacy.
  • Building the image of the other within and through culture, education, science and the media.
  • Living together in multicultural and multiethnic societies: local authority perspectives

UNESCO Videos: World Heritage

There is a wonderful website, which currently has a collection of nearly 200 short, beautifully produced videos chosen to convey the richness of mankind's cultural heritage.
Through the Heritage Images Archives Initiative, NHK and UNESCO are contributing to the documenting and safeguarding of tangible and intangible cultural heritage, and of natural heritage, in order to ensure transmission of knowledge between generations and promote cultural diversity.

The partnership between UNESCO and NHK Japanese broadcasting corporation builds on state-of-the-art digital visual and sound processing technologies for the production of short digital TV documentaries on Heritage using Hi-Vision technology as well as quality 3-D moving images and reconstruction images related to the World Heritage Sites.

These videos have been edited and adapted by UNESCO especially for online access.
Here is one of the videos:

The Water Palace
Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzin, Granada

Editorial: Response to Ambassador Oliver

Louise Oliver, the former U.S. Permanent Representative to UNESCO, has published a "commentary" in the Washington Times. For those of you who don't know, the paper (according to Wikipedia)
was founded in 1982 by Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon. The Times is known for its conservative stance on political and social issues.
Ambassador Oliver was a political appointee of the Bush (43) administration, given the rank of ambassador. She is widely considered to have won the respect of the UNESCO Secretariat and of other diplomats representing their governments at UNESCO, and to have been an effective advocate for the issues on which she chose to focus. The Interpress Service reported in 2005:
Two years ago, Bush appointed the former head of an aggressive Republican fund-raising and lobby group, Louise Oliver, as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which had been boycotted by Washington for almost 20 years before.

Oliver had also been a founding director of the right-wing Independent Women's Forum along with Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney. Oliver's daughter, Anna Louise Oliver, was appointed special assistant to the State Department's PRM Bureau in 2001 primarily to work on population issues, particularly with respect to reproductive services and abortion.
I agree wholeheartedly with what I take to be Mrs. Olivers key points in the piece:
  • "This October, the United Nations Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) will elect a new director general to a six-year term. It is critical that the Obama administration focus its attention on that election."
  • "President Obama has stated his intention to promote multilateralism and the use of 'soft power' as the hallmarks of his foreign policy. What the administration does with regard to UNESCO - and when - will send a clear signal about the seriousness of his commitment to use international organizations to advance U.S. national interests and the global good."
On the other hand, I have some problems with the piece. Mrs. Oliver states:
When I arrived at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris in March 2004, I was the first U.S. ambassador to the organization in 20 years. Given UNESCO's name, I expected to find my new colleagues focused on schools, scientific research and the arts. Instead, they were busy developing three new "normative instruments." each of which would have important legal implications: a declaration on bioethics, and two treaties, known at UNESCO as "conventions," on anti-doping in sports and "cultural diversity."
There are a couple of thousand employees of UNESCO, many more people who participate in the international forums of UNESCO, and a large diplomatic community around UNESCO. All of these people might have been considered her colleagues. In my experience, the large majority of them are indeed focused on improving education, promoting science, and protecting culture. If as Ambassador, Mrs. Oliver missed that point it was probably because she chose to devote her time and effort to those three normative instruments.

Of course, it is not surprising that a diplomat focuses her attention on the negotiation of treaties; that is an important part of the job. What may be more surprising is that the Bush administration appointed someone to the UNESCO post who did not know the organization well before assuming her duties as the Permanent Delegate to that six-decade-old organization.

Mrs. Oliver states:
On the U.N. Security Council, the United States has a veto. At UNESCO, it does not. Effective U.S. diplomacy and strong personal relationships with the secretariat and representatives of UNESCO's 192 other member states are the only means the United States has to generate support for its ideas and policies, and to thwart the efforts of those who seek to harm U.S. interests.
The United States and the other great powers emerging victorious from World War II indeed created the Security Council's veto system to assure that they could block any U.N. action that threatened their security. UNESCO was created, with the United States taking a lead role, for the exchange of ideas -- an open forum. While diplomacy and personal relations count in a forum of ideas, another critically important means to winning debates is to have good ideas to promote and strong arguments with which to promote them. UNESCO was created to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men, and that is best done by reasoned discussion rather than force.

Mrs. Oliver states that she and her staff "successfully negotiated the Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights". The Declaration had been under negotiation prior to the U.S. reentry into UNESCO, and after reentry an American was added to the drafting committee. That person, an eldely physician with a distinguished history as a medical academic, was also known for his strong "right to life advocacy"; he served on the very controversial Presidential Committee on Bioethics.

Was it appropriate for UNESCO to consider bioethics and human rights? UNESCO's concern for human rights goes back to the request from the United Nations to investigate whether there were indeed rights that were so widely shared among cultures of the world as to be "universal". Similarly, it has always focused on ethics and indeed has been termed "the conscience of the United Nations system."

Was the negotiation successful? A declaration is the weakest of the international instruments, and the bioethics declaration might not affect country behavior much in any case. Still, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, negotiated under the guidance of Eleanor Roosevelt, has been hugely influential over the past six decades, and there may well have been useful things that a new declaration on bioethics could have done. In point of fact, the declaration was widely criticized by philosophers and human rights experts.

Mrs. Oliver seems concerned that other nations disagree with us about some aspects of human rights and use UNESCO as a forum to seek to convince the majority of nations of the superiority of their beliefs. The very purpose of UNESCO was to allow peaceful discussions of issues so important that if unresolved they might lead to war.

The debate on the abolition of slavery was conducted over many years before the right to freedom from involuntary servitude was acknowledged by the community of nations, So too, there has been a debate in the last couple of years over the use of torture on prisoners for which the majority of Americans appear to disagree with the position of the Bush administration. People do go to war over such issues!

There is another UNESCO decision before the Obama administration -- the appointment of a new U.S. Permanent Representative to UNESCO. I hope that the administration will find a skilled diplomat, devoted to advancing education, science and culture, who will be an effective advocates for the best of American ideals, and who will fully understand the UNESCO milieu in which that advocacy is to take place. I would also hope that the new representative emphasizes efforts to make UNESCO more efficient and effective in improving education, promoting science and protecting culture globally.

John Daly
(The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO or any other organization.)

Comments on the UNESCO Culture Program

The Hudhud Chants of the Ifugao
©Renato S. Rastrollo / NCCA -ICH /UNESCO

Following the class last week on the World Heritage Center, students this week presented a class on the remainder of the Culture program of UNESCO. That program has helped to prevent illegal traffic in cultural artifacts such as art and archaeological objects, to protect artifacts during conflict and to repatriate artifacts that have been illegally removed from their rightful place. Perhaps the most important aspect of the convention is that it has made museums and dealers more careful about handling such objects; having helped dry up the demand for such goods, the convention has reduced the incentives for those who would remove cultural objects from their legitimate homes.

More recently an emphasis has been added on intangible cultural heritage. This enabled the students to show a clip from the Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity website. Much of the UNESCO coverage of these intangible aspects of culture is focused on things which seem picturesque to our graduate students, and indeed would seem so to most people who might read this blog.

The students discussed the fact that American culture also distinguishes us from other nations, including the culture of our institutions of higher education. Americans are known internationally not only for its popular culture (movies, television, music) but also for an ideology based on belief in free markets and democracy, the remains of its frontier culture, church attendance, and emphasis on civil society.

It was pointed out that not all aspects of cultural heritage are worthy of being maintained. America has a heritage of slavery, racism and prejudice which many people feel must be overcome. Indeed, UNESCO's efforts to foster a culture of peace recognize that some cultural changes are to be desired. Thus the efforts to protect intangible culture must be seen as empowering peoples more fully to choose the cultural changes that they will foster.

There was also a discussion of the efforts of UNESCO to protect threatened languages, including demonstration of the UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger. Again, there was a recognition that living languages change and develop, but that there are thousands of languages used by only small populations that may eventually die out, with a loss of the oral heritage that they convey.

The discussion recognized that UNESCO does recognize the role of culture in development, and especially seeks to help nations to recognize the appropriate role for policies protecting cultural diversity within their development policy portfolio. In this respect, UNESCO has a program fostering cultural industries (such as music, art and crafts), and of course UNESCO has an important role in international copyright law and protection.

Both the presenters and the audience found the materials so interesting that time grew short, and there was little time to discuss all of the cultural activities, Thus the discussion of the Convention on Underwater Cultural Heritage had to be cut too short to adequately introduce that important topic. (Did you know that sea level has risen 100 feet since the height of the last ice age, and that as a result it has been very difficult to investigate the hypothesis that an important route for human migration to the Americas was down the coasts in the final stages of the ice age.)

All in all a stimulating topic and discussion!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Comments on the Budget of UNESCO

One of the more difficult issues for the students in my class has been to understand the budget of UNESCO. I did this simple spreadsheet (click on it to enlarge) to help them to understand the Organization. It describes the budget for the two year period, of almost one billion dollars.

The UNESCO budget is divided between the Approved budget funded from the assessed contributions of the member nations, and the extra-budgetary resources which are voluntary contributions made to specific projects and units of the organization. (There are lots of activities done under the UNESCO umbrella which are not included in these budgets, such as those of the so called "Category 2 Centers", National Commissions, Associated Schools, and University Chairs, not to mention the in kind services of people consulted by UNESCO.)

Note first that more than one-third of the expected funding is extra-budgetary. On the one hand, this allows the donors to direct the funding to efforts that they feel are especially valuable; on the other hand, the Organization's focus is heavily dependent on the contributions it can obtain as donations.

Part II of the budget, which includes the direct budgets for the various programs of UNESCO (including direct staff and other direct expenses), represents only about 70 percent of the total, and that is about equally divided between assessed contributions and voluntary contributions. I suspect that this is a glitch in the accounting principals. Thus the communication of UNESCO's work done via the Internet is probably accounted as supporting services, while I would regard that communication as one of UNESCO's more important functions. So too, some of the meetings hosted by UNESCO would seem to be accounted as part of the direction, but may also represent an important function of the organization as promoting dialog and serving as a clearinghouse for ideas.

Note how the balance of approved and extra-budgetary resources differs from program to program. The education program appears to be the priority for UNESCO as viewed from its Approved budget, while the natural science program would appear to be the priority of the nations making voluntary contributions.

I would also note that the budget for the social and human sciences program is smaller than that for other programs. Given the importance that improved understanding of economics, sociology, anthropology, political science, management sciences, psychology, cognitive science, etc. could have for the world, this is too bad. On the other hand, it would be hard to justify taking money away from starved programs of education, natural sciences, culture and communications to build new capacities in UNESCO. More resources are clearly needed.

If one were to take a billion dollar budget for an organization with UNESCO's charter and allocate it optimally, this is not the budget that would result. Rather this is the budget that funds the UNESCO organization and program that has evolved over six decades, under the influence of a complex legislative and bureaucratic decision making process, and the willingness of the more affluent nations to fund the Organization.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

U.N. Secretary General Meets with Obama

Source: "Obama, UN’s Ban Call for Unified Response to Sudan," Bill Varner and Hans Nichols, Bloomberg.com, March 10, 2009.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said Obama’s meeting with Ban less than two months into his administration was a sign of renewed support for the international organization.

“The early timing of this meeting and the breadth of its substance I think underscores the importance that President Obama and the administration attach to the United Nations,” Rice said today in New York.

After their Oval Office meeting, Ban expressed similar sentiments, saying that he was encouraged that Obama met with him “at such an early stage” of his presidency.
Editorial comment: The willingness of President Obama to meet with the Secretary General so early in his term in office is indeed encouraging. This is especially true given the economic crisis that the nation is facing, which must necessarily take a great deal of the President's time. I suspect this bodes well for the U.S. relationships with UNESCO during the Obama administration. JAD

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Millennium Development Goals – bankable pledge or sub-prime asset?

The bad news is that projections of economic
conditions are getting worse and worse.
The not so bad news is that they may not
be very credible.

Kevin Watkins and Patrick Montjourides of the team writing the Education for All Monitoring Report made a presentation to a UNESCO Future Forum session titled "The Global Financial and Economic Crisis: What Impact on Multilateralism and UNESCO?" (Others of the presentations at the session are available online.)

A UNESCO press release summarizes the presentation, beginning with this assessment:
We are in the greatest economic crisis since 1929 – international experts at the UNESCO Future Forum (Monday, 3 March) were in agreement on this. Its consequences could be disastrous, starting with the deaths of two million children between now and 2015.

A further 200 million people, mostly in Africa, could be living on less than US$1.25 per day (up 6.1% on 2007 figures) and, as Aart de Geus, Deputy Secretary-General of OECD, pointed out, the world’s unemployed could swell to 30 million, even 50 million, over the course of the coming years, if the situation continues to worsen (see interview). This would mean an unemployment rate of 7.1% with 230 million job seekers worldwide, over half of them women.
The report from which this presentation was drawn is not yet published, but I have obtained a copy of the presentation itself which you can download from Box.net.

The Gender Mainstreaming facet of the UNESCO website makes streaming videos available of some of the presentations from the Future Forum that focused specifically on women and gender equality.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

International Women's Day at UNESCO

UNESCO celebrates the Day (March 8) by hosting round-tables, conferences, exhibitions and cultural events that highlight issues relating to the empowerment of women and the promotion of gender equality.

Read more at UNESCO News Service »

UNESCO’s International Women’s Day 2009 celebrations will focus on UNESCO’s commitment to designate gender equality as a global priority of the Organization in its Medium-Term Strategy for the period 2008-2013.

Friday, March 06, 2009

World Heritage n°51

The World Heritage Center and HP have partnered to provide an online sample of this edition of the World Heritage magazine.

Friends of World Heritage

This video comes from the United Nations Foundation. It was found on a playlist with a lot of great videos on world heritage sites:


Social Network Sites Linked to UNESCO

Social networking is becoming more and more popular. In keeping with the trend, I have started tweeting on Twitter, with updates on the Americans for UNESCO blogs. Twitter is a microblog, with entries limited to 140 characters. You can read the postings you are following via your computer or your cell phone. The Americans for UNESCO entries are found under the username AmUNESCO.


Jennie Lawrence has also created a Twitter account with the username UNESCOoer, which focuses on UNESCO's Open Education Resources.


LinkedIn, the social networking site I use most because it serves a community strongly involved in international development, has a UNESCO Group. Currently there are 141 member who can hold discussions, share news, advertise jobs, etc.

LinkedIn UNESCO Group

There are other LinkedIn groups related to UNESCO, such as the International Webmasters Group, but most are smaller and linked to rather specific fields.

Facebook, a social networking site very popular with youths and the general population has a Group focusing on World Heritage Sites, as well as one for Friends of World Heritage.

UNESCO's World Heritage Center

A world heritage site
Photo: Ian Britton via FreeFoto.com

There was a good presentation and discussion last night in our UNESCO course on the World Heritage Center and its program. We also enjoyed the participation of Ray Wanner, an expert on the World Heritage Program, as a resource person.

The program has been called UNESCO's flagship and it is perhaps the best known of UNESCO's activities. With 876 world heritage sites in 145 countries, and 186 countries as signatories to the World Heritage Convention, almost everyone has visited a world heritage site. On the other hand, most people harbor serious misconceptions about the program.

The program was created by the World Heritage Convention, which went into force in 1975. However it was created on the basis of earlier efforts.

When the Aswan Dam was built, Abu Simbel would have been flooded. This extraordinary temple, carved out of solid rock with huge statues of the Pharaoh Ramses II, was too important to lose. In the 1960's, with the leadership of UNESCO the temple was ripped out of the rock and moved to higher ground. This effort proved that UNESCO could play a catalytic role in the protection of world heritage sites.

UNESCO had been involved in the earlier creation of two important bodies for the preservation of cultural objects:
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had been created in 1948. When in the 1960's the United States proposed a World Heritage Convention which would provide for the protection of cultural and natural site of such importance as to form part of the heritage of all mankind, these organizations were in place to provide the expertise to evaluate the importance of proposed sites and the adequacy of the proposed plans for their protection.

While there are economic advantages, such as the promotion of sustainable tourism -- as well as pride of place -- in having a world heritage site, countries participate in the World Heritage Convention primarily to safeguard the common heritage of mankind.

Countries are responsible for inventorying their domestic sites worthy of world heritage designation, and proposing them for inclusion on the world heritage list. Such a proposal involves not only a defense of the importance of the site, but also a plan for its maintenance. The World Heritage Center has proposed sites and plans reviewed by the appropriate technical body, and proposals are approved, deferred or rejected by its governing body on the basis of the expert review. A list is also maintained of World Heritage Sites in Danger; one site has been removed from the World Heritage List after it had become too degraded to retain the world heritage status.

The World Heritage Center, with a secretariat of 80 people, has its own governing body, an elected subset of the member nations of UNESCO. It has a budget of some $11 million per year, of which only about $3 million comes from the assessed contributions of UNESCO member states. The budget (small in the context of the Center's responsibilities) has been controversial, with some suggestions that in view of the importance of the program UNESCO should allocate more than one percent of its regular budget to World Heritage. The remainder of the Center's budget is made up of contributions, and the Center is aggressively seeking partnerships with private and public enterprises to advance the work.

The Center secretariat not only manages the process of inscription of new world heritage sites and assists member nations in preparing proposals for inclusion, but manages the expert reviews of sites, responds to requests for expert opinion, manages a publication program on world heritage, helps to manage scientific research on the conservation and management of world heritage, provides educational materials and supports an outreach to kids.

Recognized world heritage sites are most densely located in Europe, and are sadly lacking in Africa and Oceana; there are 20 in the United States. Those in relatively affluent countries are usually well maintained; there maintenance represents a significant economic effort. The Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site in the United States, which is not part of the national park system, is perhaps an exception to this rule. Unfortunately, there are situations in which poor countries do not have the resources to effectively manage their world heritage, and sites are suffering accordingly. Were the World Heritage Center to have a more adequate budget it could provide more training and technical assistance to these countries, and indeed it might be possible to subsidize the maintenance of World Heritage sites were needed.

The most acute peril to world heritage sites probably comes in countries undergoing conflict. UNESCO's secretariat can be especially helpful in catalyzing global concern and support for protection of world heritage sites in such conditions, as was done in Bosnia.

One issue of some concern is how many World Heritage sites should be inscribed in the UNESCO list. Certainly some sites are of more transcendental importance than others. Is there a point at which adding more, less important sites will detract from the influence of the program in assuring the conservation and maintenance of the most important sites? In a few years, at the current rate of growth of the list, there will be 1,000 sites. Is that too many?

The students had some difficulty understanding the legal implications of the World Heritage Convention. Having been ratified by the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate, it has the force of law within the United States. However, there is no supra-national judiciary body that could enforce its provisions. While the convention requires signatory nations to inventory their world heritage sites and set up organizations for their maintenance, and to provide assistance where possible to other nations that request help in maintaining their own sites, given the sovereignty of the signatory nations there is no international system to police compliance. Moreover, given the lack of specificity in the terms of the Convention, it seems unlike that there would ever be an occasion to challenge the implementation by the United States in U.S. courts.

The question arises as to why the United States proposed and ratified the Convention. Since the Convention imposes duties on the nation, what do we get in return. Perhaps other conventions can help to understand the issue:
  • The Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War requires each signatory nation to treat the prisoners of war that it holds in a humane way. Each signatory nation voluntarily imposes restrictions on the way it treats prisoners, but in return is assured that its citizens if prisoners of war in other signatory nations will be treated humanely. For each nation, the benefits to its own citizens are seen to more than justify any restrictions imposed on the way it treats prisoners from other nations.
  • The Climate Change Convention currently under negotiation will presumably require each signatory nation to restrict its emissions of greenhouse gases. In return it can expect other signatory nations also to restrict such emissions. No nation can prevent greenhouse warming alone, but the nations of the world in collaboration can do so.
Americans enjoy traveling to Venice, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids of Egypt, or the Rose Red City of Petra where they can experience a spectacular cultural experience. Americans want to know that Australia's Great Barrier Reef or Iguazu Falls in South America are maintained in pristine state. The country is willing to pledge to maintain our own sites to assure that partner nations in the Convention will also pledge to maintain theirs. Through such cooperation, more of mankind's heritage can be maintained than any nation could achieve acting alone.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

UNESCO Courier: Endangered Languages

The new UNESCO Courier (Number 2, 2009) focuses on endangered languages, with a series of articles by experts. Published in honor of International Mother Language Day (21 February). I was especially taken by the article about the Polynesian-English based pigeon language developed by the descendants of the mutiny on the Bounty and their Tahitian wives, which is now dividing into dialects on Norfolk and Pitcairn Islands.

The Global Financial and Economic Crisis: What Impact on Multilateralism and UNESCO?

UNESCO Headquarters
© UNESCO/Nina Levintha

The UNESCO Future Forum held a session on this topic on 2 March 2009 at UNESCO Headquarters. Its purpose was to reflect on the ramifications of the present financial and economic crisis and their implications for international cooperation in general and in particular for UNESCO’s domains, namely education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.

The one-day event had three goals:
  • Provide the Secretariat, Member States of UNESCO, media, NGOs and the public at large with a better understanding of the potential impact of the global financial and economic crisis on multilateralism and UNESCO
  • Contribute to the sharpening of UNESCO’s approaches in a context of lower resource prospects and growing needs
  • Underline UNESCO’s role as a laboratory of ideas and to enhance its visibility in this regard.
The website for the conference has interesting presentations by a number of experts.

The Morung Express has an interesting article related to the meeting.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Education For All: Class of 2015

75 million children are out of schoool, and millions more struggle to stay in school. This is a battle we can win - with the right political will and resources Education for All is possible.

This short film was produced for the Education for All: Class of 2015 that was launched at the UN in September 2008. The class brings together celebrities, world leaders and activists to ensure that Education for All becomes a reality. www.classof2015.org

Comment: This video was used in our seminar on UNESCO, and was well regarded. JAD

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Meeting of National Commissions

Image © UNESCO/ M. Ravassard
The Director General, National Commissions and
UNESCO Staff Members . París, France, february 2007

A meeting was held in January of representatives of the National Commissions for UNESCO of developed nations. Fourteen developed nations sent representatives, and three developing nations sent observers. Unfortunately, the U.S. National Commission did not send a representative.

Kelly Seikman, of the State Department's Office of UNESCO Affairs, was queried about the meeting, and responded:
I wish that the U.S. could have attended the meeting, but unfortunately it was on a day that the U.S. was not able to attend.
The conclusion of the report of the meeting stated:
National Commissions are a modern instrument of governance, truly reflecting the participatory approach of UNESCO as laid down in its Constitution, and creating a strong link between governments, civil society and multilateral cooperation. They especially support the intellectual function of the Organization by mobilizing national expertise and they create awareness and advocacy for UNESCO in its Member States. We have to find more intelligent ways to maximize this resource for the Organization.
The participants in the meeting, noting that National Commissions differ from country to country, there are some general standards that should be maintained for all to assure their efficient functioning. Their examples of such standards were:
  1. National Commissions should be well structured and equipped with (at least) minimum financial resources.
  2. A well trained Secretary-General with a mandate of at least 5 years and one
    professional staff for each of UNESCO’s major programmes
  3. Experience is one of the main assets of National Commissions’ staff. Therefore, frequent changes of professional staff in National Commissions are to be seen as a main impediment to their effectiveness; there is clear evidence of a close relation between the quality of work of a National Commission and the number of years of tenure of its professional staff, especially with regard to the Secretary-General. Effective mechanisms should be developed to ensure stability in the Secretariats of National Commissions.
  4. Inter-sectoral outreach of National Commissions is essential. A however limited autonomy in the administrative linkage to a national ministry allows National Commissions to establish good relations to all ministries concerned by UNESCO’s large mandate. A National Commission should not, through the attachment to a particular ministry, be limited to work exclusively in one of the Organization’s major programs
  5. Experience shows that it is necessary to address governments in order to enhance the status of National Commissions.

Public Consultation on the 2010 EFA Global Monitoring Report

The theme of the 2010 Report is - “Reaching and teaching the most marginalized“ . The Report will explore the factors that perpetuate marginalization, along with the success – or failure – of public policy responses, focusing on two core areas:
  • Access to schooling and learning opportunities
  • Teaching, learning processes and achievements
The comments should be submitted by email before March 16rh.

New UNESCO Partnership for online Literacy Training

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning has with Gatlin International LLC, a firm headquartered in Fort Worth Texas, to provide a new Adult Literacy online training course.

The course is accessible at:

This non-credit course can help individuals with real-life dialog, discussions, negotiations and conversations. It contains a full range of computer-based activities including listening tasks, text display options and interactive speaking exercises.